Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Hotel Chocolat

What better way to finish off a day of sale shopping in the cold than a nice warming cup of cocoa? Well, that cocoa might be well and truly trumped by the enormous bowls of Liquid Chocolat on sale in Hotel Chocolat at Bristol's Cabot Circus. My sister and I had shopped until we'd dropped(£100 (100% silk!) top for less than £20? Check! Bargain half-price super ideal bag? Check! Yards of Butterfly bunting for a mere £1.60? Check!) and after a lot of walking (and browsing but no grabbing; we are ladies after all), we were in need of some sustenance. I had only heard about Hotel Chocolat by drooling over the goodies available on their website after I'd been lucky enough to receive a selection one Christmas. I must admit that the experience is even better in person (though I wasn't entirely sure that was possible). Now, these hot chocolates are cheap at £3 each but you do get a big cup for your pennies and it's exceedingly good quality! We had a Valentian Orange and a Caramel Kiss; both sublime and highly recommended!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Review: Cosmo, Bristol

viewBack in Bristol for Christmas and working in Clifton, I decided to go for a wander to see what had happened to the local area while I've been away. One of the restaurants that has popped up is Cosmo, a pan-asian all-you-can-eat. On closer inspection, I found the prices to be quite reasonable especially for their lunchtime service so with the promise of lunch on me (at such good prices, I was feeling generous!), I dragged my man along to try it out.

I often worry about attempting to eat out during a lunch break as the clock is ticking so bad service is especially frustrating. This didn't seem to be a problem when we visited. We entered at about 12:45, paid for our meals on entry and were then seated within minutes. The venue itself is vast and has a slightly glamorous feel to it if you like simple industrial; dark wood and soft lighting. They have kept things simple too with no extravagant place settings or table clothes which keeps the place looking slick and, of course, keeps turn around quick between customers. Now, the food. For £6.50 (12-3pm lunchtime deal), you have a whole selection of prepared foods to try and come back as many times as you like. There are several fresh food serveries, including a sushi bar (which wasn't open for lunchtime) and a Teppanyaki bar (which was). All of the food seemed fresh, of a fair quality and replenished regularly. Drinks cost extra on top of your meal price and can be ordered from your table. There seemed to be a large team of serving staff who were diligent and very helpful. Although drinks weren't overly expensive, we asked for tap water which was provided without a quibble. For pudding, there is a separate bar. It was a little disappointing in selection and quality but seemed fresh.

Cosmo have branches all over the South of England. All in all, you get what you pay for. The food is plentiful and of fair quality overall. The service is great and we were in and out within the hour.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Easy Party Snacks

We - by that I mean myself and my darling man (who categorically does not like being called "the boy"...) - receive an invite to an evening in the company of good friends with the condition that we should bring some snacky starters in return for a home-cooked main course and pudding. Fair enough, I think but can't find myself inspired into my usual cooking frenzy. You see, some members of our party have slightly particular tastes (no fish, nothing spicy, etc). Add to this conundrum that the main course is curry and my mind is stuck in a stale rut. The answer, of course, comes from my boyfriend's mother brandishing some ever faithful Delia. What we produced went down very well and without having to venture outside the warmth of her home.

Easy Cheesy Pinwheels

Puff Pastry (from frozen, fresh or handmade)
Plain flour for dusting
Cheddar Cheese
Soft Cheese
Grilled Smoked Bacon (finely chopped)
Olives (finely chopped)
...or whatever goodies you fancy/have!

- Preheat oven to 220C
- Roll out pastry. It doesn't matter how much you have so long as it is about 5mm thick when you've finished
- Sprinkle half of the pastry with cheddar cheese and spread the other half with a thin but even covering of soft cheese
- Spread out the bacon across the cheddar cheese and the olives across the soft cheese. You should aim to have an even covering so you will get a little of the filling in each pinwheel but not so much that the cheese is completely covered otherwise they might not stick together.
- Fold the opposite outer edges into the middle of the pastry (across the two fillings). This can be tricky if you have a large area of pastry. Get some help from someone useful or use a spatula.
- Fold the outer edges (of the folded sides) into the middle again. This sounds like a complicated process and is a bit difficult to explain but is actually really easy when you're doing it.
- Cut 5mm slices across the folds to form each pinwheel and lay on a greesed tray or onto a tray lined with reuseable baking paper.
- Bake for ten to fifteen minutes until golden.

Use whatever you have - different cheese work well. Indeed, you could simply do a "Four Cheese" version with cheddar, parmesan, stilton and mozzarella. We found that the pinwheels with soft cheese baked differently and didn't rise like the cheddar ones which was strange but they were just as tasty. Other ideas are:
>Goats cheese with pinenuts and pesto
>Mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes
>Cheddar cheese and anchovy

Oh and we also made some Tiny Cheese, Onion and Olive Scones served warm, filled with blue or soft cheese. I'll leave Delia to tell you how it's done!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Gourmet Burger Kitchen

In the age of fast food, I fear the humble burger has had a bad wrap. The dreaded poor quality of the American chains and the greasy produce on offer from hosts of street side vans have contributed to a feeling that burgers have to be slimy, fatty, mass-produced, bad for you or a combination of all four!

This is not the case at Gourmet Burger Kitchen or GBK as it's affectionately known. After an evening of giggling and falling our way around an ice rink in Oxford, we were in need of some sustenance. According to their website, GBK don't take bookings (though in truth, I've only ever visited on the spur of the moment anyway) and although it wasn't quiet, there was a free table for my party of three. You can choose a burger from the vast and great-tasting menu. I'm a fan of their bacon and avocado burgers but just go along and choose; don't be shy! Their fries are amazing but with the huge burgers, should be rationed one between two even if you're hungry (you can always order more!). Highly recommended are their milkshakes. Yum! They also have a great selection of beers, which makes it popular with my male friends.

The price is pretty good - a burger, chips and a beer will set you back about £15 depending on which burger you choose. They have branches all over the country having started out in London. A great venue for a meal with friends.
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